Echoes from a Gendered Court: Examining the Justices' Interactions During Supreme Court Oral Arguments
66 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2017 Last revised: 16 Mar 2017
Date Written: January 31, 2017
Supreme Court oral arguments are the only publicly scheduled opportunities for the Justices and advocates to directly engage in discussions about a case. There are few rules to regulate these conversations. Within this unique setting and due to the lack of argument structure combined with the limited time allotted to each argument, the Justices vie for chances to speak, sometimes at the expense of utterances from other Justices. In this Article we examine how the Justices’ genders dictate much of the Justices’ interactions and ultimately the power structure of oral argument.
This Article shows how gender is an embedded characteristic of the oral arguments and how the Justices’ appropriations and perceptions of gender roles create disparities in the balance of authority on the Court. The Article’s analysis shows a major gap between male Justices’ interruptions of female Justices and female Justices' interruptions of male Justices during oral arguments. After discussing why this is problematic, the Article offers suggestions for how the Court can reduce these interruptions through institutional reforms. The Article’s analyses corroborate conversational and power dynamics previously elucidated by sociolinguists, but also extend those findings to the insular environment of the United States Supreme Court.
Keywords: interruptions, gender, Supreme Court, oral argument, justices, speech, overlap, sociolinguistics, communication
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